Atlantean Kodex // The Golden Bough Review
Rating: 4.5/5.0 —Heavy like a two ton heavy thing
Label: Cruz Del Sur Records
Release Dates: Out now worldwide!
Crushing my friends, simply crushing. Like being flattened by some type of heavy industrial smoothing machine, The Golden Bough, the debut full-length from Germany’s Atlantean Kodex will compress you in a major way. However, this crushing may be one of your better listening experience this year if you dig epic/doom metal. Although I was lead to expect good things by their well-regarded Pnakotic Demos EP, I wasn’t prepared for anywhere near this level of asskickery. To put it quite simply, this is one of the most epic and huge sounding metal albums to drop on us in years. With a sound combining Into Glory Ride-era Manowar with the doom of While Heaven Wept and the atmosphere of Bathory’s Hammerheart opus, these guys have birthed a monstrous metal titan that should be essential listening for all fans of doom, epic or just plain old heavy metal.
Without much preamble other than a short, very Bathory-esque opening of waves crashing on the shore, lead track “Fountain of Nepenthe” bursts out with massive sounding guitar riffery, war drum rhythms and the commanding vocals of Markus Becker, who at times sounds like Rob Lowe of esteemed doom lords Solitude Aeturnus but with a slightly higher voice. This is the textbook example of epic doom metal and at ten minutes plus, it has time to really throw it’s considerable weight around. There are huge Sabbath-like riffs, mournful leads and equally forlorn vocals by Becker. Well done across the boards and obviously crafted by musicians who respect, love and understand the genre.
What follows is track after track of monolithic, ponderous, weighty metal that will appeal to anyone who ever wallowed in grief along with Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus. Most of the tracks clock in at over seven minutes, with some as long as fifteen. In nearly every instance, it’s downtrodden, mammoth sounding doom of the highest caliber. The guitar tone achieved by Michael Koch and Manuel Trummer is perfect for this style and their leads and solos evoke sadness, despair and at times, fleeting moments of hope. This superb fretwork is what makes The Golden Bough such a success. Without this treasure trove of doom riffs, boredom would set in and boredom is the enemy of doom metal like Lars Ulrich is the enemy of Napster.
Markus Becker also plays huge part in the overall success here. Although pretty much unknown beyond his work on this and the EP, he turns in a chillingly emotional performance throughout, going from mournful and haunted to powerful and forceful, as required by the song. Check out his work on the title track and especially “Verperal Hymn” where he veers near Jethro Tull territory in delivery (especially when he whines the word “wine”). On top of the superior musicianship, there are many cool little touches across the album like crashing waves, booming church bells and birds chirping in the background, all adding to the somber and majestic mood.
Aside from a somewhat murky production, there aren’t many flaws to harp on. The only real miss is “Disciplines of the Iron Crown” which gets partially derailed by an awkward, distracting chorus. Also, Becker’s voice goes flat at times, yet not so much that takes away from the overall mood. The rest of The Golden Bough is a total triumph and a monument to the enduring power of doom metal.
There aren’t many bands that can do this style with as much skill an conviction as Atlantean Kodex can and their skill belies their experience. With such a masterful debut under their belt, the sky is the limit for these young doom masters. I can’t stress enough, if you love doom, you have to track this down. It’s golden!